Eyes Up @ Darden #4 – Other people’s shoes can be uncomfortable

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We all expect to cover topics such as political correctness, negotiation, influencing and coaching on a leadership program.  What I didn’t expect was that my biggest learning from this final part to the Women’s Leadership Program was that sometimes – no matter how uncomfortable – we need to learn to stand in other people’s shoes before we can even begin to lead effectively.

Yesterday we considered political correctness, led by the charismatic Dr Martin Davidson (www.leveragingdifference.com).  I’ve loved all the presenters this week, but Professor Davidson was definitely my favourite – for his energising effect on the class, his obvious intellect and above all good humour.  The concept of the different layers or dimensions to diversity was new to me and has changed my thinking – whilst I am a woman, and therefore less dominant in some situations such as the boardroom of a financial institution, I am also a white anglo saxon – which in different circumstances of cultural mix,  has the potential to make me more dominant.  If we perceive discrimination against us on the basis of one dimension, we need to question ourselves carefully about what the other party is thinking, seeing and feeling before we label that behaviour .   In most cases, especially with working mothers, there are other issues at play that have nothing to do with being female and everything to do with parenting and work/life balance.  I can’t fully express here how much impact this session had, maybe after I’ve read Prof. Davidson’s book I can be more enlightening…so watch this space.

We had heaps of fun practicing negotiation skills, which provided some very useful tips for the next shoe or handbag sale I attend as well as for the workplace!  Then we moved to the auditorium to practise our leadership presence on the stage – using some very liberating voice and body exercises.  The point to this was firstly, to relax, and secondly, to gain more understanding of the mix of visual and vocal tools we can use to more fully engage an audience of any size and better convey our message.  Again this has left me wanting to study more in this area as I am starting to believe it’s something I can become really good at if I practice.

On the final morning, we got to deliver our own response to the question “How’s Business?” – to leverage these leadership presence tips in a 2 minute soundbite of our choice.  At the last minute I decided to correct something which has bothered me since the 24th June when I was awarded the Women in Banking an Finance (WiBF) Turkslegal Scholarship to come to Darden.  On that particular day, I had been told I would be named at the WiBF lunch where 500 people were waiting to hear from David Gonski, a well regarded Australian public figure.  On arrival, I was informed I would be presented with my award on stage, but would not be required to say anything – which I found quite a relief!  But of course, on receiving the award I was asked if I would like to say a few words – and promptly flushed, shook my head and exited the stage.  I’m sure there were a few people who admired my humility, but as I walked away all I could think of what what an idiot I had been to miss an opportunity to say something even slightly memorable in front of 500 well connected and important people.   I had failed to grab the mike when offered.  Unforgivable.

If I walked in the shoes of the audience that day, even though they were really waiting the hear from David Gonski, I would have felt disappointed that the award recipient didn’t even speak.  So today I re-enacted that moment properly.  OK, so there were only 12 people in the room – but the feedback was great.  I will  keep practicing.

As our final closing today we all chose to write a word on the blackboard (yes they still have those here!) saying what this week meant to us – as this is the last Eyes Up @ Darden,  I’ll leave you with some of them to ponder – and perhaps LuluLemon might like to re-do their bags with them!  I know I’ll keep coming back to these as reminders of this week – as I put myself in others’ shoes and see where my potential can take me.  Eyes Up will be back soon… stay tuned.

Pay it forward – practice – believe – recharged – authentic – mission focus – encouraged – energised – acceptance – blessed – inspired – courage – prepared – meaningful – change – eye opening – network – calm – unfinished – connections – chemistry – inspire

Eyes Up @ Darden #2 – Strategy, Self Awareness and 27 women – 27 opinions!

I’m writing another entry again today as I fear tomorrow night the pressure of the business simulation may take over!  What a day we had today…. it is so long (23 years to be exact) since I sat in a purely academic environment and just soaked it up without being under a particular company banner.  Even though the subject matter is directly related to my day to day life, it feels slightly liberating and a little bit self indulgent at the same time.  But more later about female guilt and inferiority complexes…

When you put 27 diverse women in a room even for an hour, you’re always going to have some interesting times… and we’re certainly on a voyage of discovery.  There are people here from industry, government agencies, the military, hospitality and of course finance – to name a few – and they come from legal, accounting, marketing, operations and many other disciplines.  Add to this they have come from the UK, various parts of the USA, Nigeria, Turkey, Dubai and of course Australia, and you can see that despite the gender similarities, there are many differences.

The day started with a 2.5 mile power walk in the dark – it was about 7 degrees out so we needed to walk fast….. the keener exercisers ran or swam even earlier.  Then straight into a day of strategy and leadership case studies covering Taren Swam (Nickolodeon), Christine Day (Starbucks/LuluLemon) and finally words of wisdom from Sheryl Sandberg.  The learning style at Darden is interactive – there is nowhere to hide in the room.  Each Professor teaching showed accomplished presentation skills and challenged us to respond and comment on the written material and further questioning.  It was amazing how many different views there were on each of these well known leaders – particularly when we were asked if we would like to work with these people ourselves, or what the message/story was that was being told.  There were some very strong views and considerable emotion in the room on several points.

With 27 women in the room, sometimes it felt like there were 27 opinions… I was left wondering how the discussion would have been with an equal representation of men in the room.  It seemed as if every point made could be applied equally to men in certain circumstances, and some members of the group alluded to this being  the case in their areas of expertise where men frequently take a back seat.  But I think we’ve all felt the female imposter syndrome at some point plus a healthy dose of parent guilt for those of us who have been working mothers.

My main takeaway was that we need to be very careful how we judge, as without self awareness of our own natural and often unconscious bias, we may be too quick to interpret words, actions and appearances, and our emotions may take over our ability to walk in the other person’s shoes and see their point of view.

In case I don’t post again for a couple of days, I thoroughly recommend this TED talk to you all – especially if you’re a parent.  It’s about creating a growth mindset to encourage learning and change awareness, and is beautifully presented by Eduardo Brinceno: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the day from the Professor who presented to us on Strategy:

“Strategy is the MSG of the Business world” – nicely put!!

Eyes Up @ Darden – #1 – the honeymoon is over!

Welcome to the first special edition of Eyes Up – coming to you as I attend the Women’s Leadership Program at the Darden Business School, University of Virginia – yes that is in the USA!  I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship by the Women in Banking and Finance (WiBF) organisation and TurksLegal in Sydney to attend this well renowned program this year, so for the next week this blog will share my progress and thoughts during the course.

The honeymoon really is over as this trip gave my new husband Mark and I the opportunity to spend a beautiful 6 days holidaying in New York – a place neither of us have visited for some time.  It really has come a long way – last time I was there, anywhere below 42nd St was a no go zone for tourists.  We had a great time seeing the sights, catching up with some old friends of Mark’s, eating, drinking and of course shopping… good job I left some space in my bags when I left Australia – thanks to 25% off at DvF yesterday, I should now be the best dressed person on this course!

I’ve just arrived in Charlottesville to a chilling but sunny autumn day – the guy at the airport apologising profusely as I had to wait a whole 15 minutes for a cab …. he has obviously never been to Sydney Airport. Was I supposed to tip him?  Never quite sure here.. The countryside is rolling green hills and paddocks around here and everyone seems relaxed – everyone except the other attendee for the course I met at reception – we both exchanged names quickly then muttered quietly “Please tell me you haven’t done ALL the reading yet…”  Sighs of relief all round as we both realised that everyone is probably in the same boat given the mountain of pre-work and assignments that arrived just as I went on vacation – I’m blaming the dodgy hotel internet connection for my slackness but the tequila may have had a say in that too.

Tonight’s welcome dinner starts soon – we have to present our 40 character “Tweet” saying what we want to get out of the program.  The only time I tweet is when I post a link to this blog so I had a practice go last week – it appears even my typical text messages go for longer than 140 characters!  After some thought (and another Martini) I came up with this:

My #bigbreak when & how? #untappedpotential #needsponsors

This was actually a challenging exercise – the pre work has involved watching Sheryl Sandberg’s well known address from 2013 again (http://www.hbs.edu/about/video.aspx?v=1_u93gc4ho if you haven’t seen it) – I’m having to face the fear of looking like an idiot in even coming up with the tweet!

The other confronting piece of pre-work was a best self exercise.  This involved asking a large circle of family, friends and work colleagues to give up to 3 examples of when they’ve seen me at their best and what traits they admired.  I had to write my own version first then interweave themes from the feedback in the final version – very hard to look at yourself that way, it would be much easier to ask what I did badly!  But extremely rewarding to get the feedback and realise that some things I thought people never noticed, they actually did.

So here I go off to make friends with the other attendees  – who are probably also sitting in their rooms right now desperately reading up for tomorrow…I’ll keep you posted as time allows…. wish me luck and let’s hope I can keep my Eyes Up!!

Eyes Up #2 – Why I must learn to network like a man

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As we move to increase the representation of women in senior management and on boards, deep and supportive networks are held out as being one of the keys to long term success. Networks provide ongoing mentors, sponsors and above all opportunities if we’re well positioned. But recently I was left wondering why I find it so unnatural to network like a man.

I attended a panel discussion held at work on the topic of workplace flexibility in professional services.  The panel comprised female senior and managing partners in large law firms and consulting practices, and it was surprising to find that I already knew 2 of the panelists and another attendee from an external firm – because our sons have all played in the same cricket team at school.  Whilst it was lovely to say hello and chat, it felt very unusual and slightly uncomfortable to see these people out of their usual context, discussing topics which we wouldn’t usually touch on.  I came to the conclusion that my natural bias is to put my network into boxes – work, school, home, family, sports – because my subconscious dictates that it is inappropriate for these things to overlap in any way.

Thinking back, I recalled a school cocktail party for my eldest son’s year 1 class.  My then husband, himself in professional services, embarrassed me by discussing his firm’s abilities with the host, an accomplished investment banker – a conversation that ended with exchange of contact details and a promise to follow up.  But why was I embarrassed by this? Both parties were happy to chat briefly about how they might do business together – indeed the host took me aside later to mention how impressed he was with the approach – and the subsequent follow up resulted in new business being transacted.  But to my subconscious, such approaches should only be made in a business context, and I was left feeling that such discussions were out of place in that social setting.

As working parents, we end up with networking opportunities that spread far and wide – workplaces, clients, suppliers, family, friends, neighbours, school/childcare, sporting teams, the list goes on…. but as women, it feels like we naturally divide these groups up into neat segments of our lives.  On closer consideration, I think I’ve used this as an unconscious coping mechanism to keep my mind focused on the task at hand – when I’m on the cricket sidelines I should be watching my son and only making casual chit chat with everyone else, I would need explicit permission to discuss anything even vaguely related to work or career.

There is only one conclusion – massive opportunities exist to expand my network into more meaningful areas – as most men would do naturally.   All that is required is to have the courage to strike up conversations on topics other than our kids’ teachers, the weather, our holiday plans or the latest renovation – and see what unfolds.

Starting this blog is part of my journey to invite discussion and feedback on these types of topics – so please follow my blog via this site or Twitter @eyesup2014 – and get in on the conversation!